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ONE

"WE HAVE TO TALK."

Ah, those four magical words. They strike dread into the most manly of hearts, and as a woman, it was an interesting experience to be on the receiving end. Interesting, but not particularly pleasant.

"Okay." I buckled my seat belt. "Talk"

Barr flipped his turn signal, carefully checked both ways, and turned right onto Highway 2.

"There's something I have to tell you, Sophie Mae."

Oh, for heaven's sake, enough with the preamble. I began to regret the super spicy Thai curry I'd had for dinner in Monroe. Barr knew I loved Thai food. Had he been buttering me up?

"Lord love a duck. Will you just say it, whatever it is?"

He nodded. Paused. Opened his mouth to speak.

A flashing cacophony bore down on us from behind. I twisted around to see what was going on as Barr quickly pulled to the side of the road. The screaming sirens and blaring horn nearly deafened us as they passed, and I put my palms over my ears like a little kid. One after another, emergency vehicles raced by: an ambulance, a fire truck, and a Sheriff's vehicle, all nose to tail and heading toward Cadyville at engine roaring speed.


As soon as they were past, Barr floored it. His personal car, a normally sedate white Camry, left rubber on the shoulder of the highway, and we trailed closely behind the emergency entourage.

"What are you doing?" I shouted over the din.

"Finding out what's going on. Whatever it is, it's not good."

A thrill ran through me. I watched, wide-eyed, as Barr maneuvered around traffic at high speed. I grabbed the oh-my-God handle over the door and tried not to grin. I probably should have been scared, but it was kind of fun.

Even if he was avoiding the issue-which I knew darn well he was. What had he been going to tell me?

We veered around a BMW, and the driver honked. Barr ignored him. A mile later we rounded a curve and discovered the reason for all the emergency equipment. My urge to grin quickly dissipated. Ahead, a car had left the road and traveled fifty feet before crashing head-on into a telephone pole. Dark smoke rose from the vehicle, and uniformed personnel ran toward it.

We parked behind the Sheriff's SUV. Then I saw the light bar on top of the wrecked car. The logo on the side.

I turned to Barr. "Oh, my God."

His door was open, and he was halfway out of the car, looking grim. "It's one of ours," he said and took off toward the gathering knot of people.

I scrambled out and down the shallow ditch embankment, falling behind as the slick soles of my flip-flops slid around on the long grass. More grass poked at my bare legs and grabbed at my summer skirt. Finally, I hit brown dirt and could run.


Panting, I came up behind Barr, but he held his arm out, preventing my further approach. A cloud of chemicals whooshed from an extinguisher as a fireman emptied it over the engine compartment. As the billowing smoke lessened, the pungent tang joined the acrid scents of burning rubber and hot metal. I peered around Barr. The driver's door was open to show part of a man's shiny black boot, but when I tried to get a better look, he turned my shoulder and walked me away from the scene.

"Who is it?" I asked, breathless. "Why aren't they trying to get him out?"

He stopped and closed his eyes. When he opened them, I knew it was really, really bad.

"It's Scott," he said. "He's dead."

"Oh, no." And again, "Oh, no. Who'll tell Chris?" I knew Scott Popper's wife better than I knew him. We were both members of the Cadyville Regional Artists' Co-op, or CRAG, a somewhat recent addition to our little town's growing artsy-fartsy scene.

Barr nodded toward a rapidly approaching pickup. It skidded to a stop on the highway, and Chris got out. She stared toward the wrecked patrol car, hand over her mouth.

He said, "She has a scanner."

Together, we hurried back across the field to Officer Popper's wife.



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